Festschrift for Ashley

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
[she] that has found one has found a treasure.
There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure [her] excellence.
A faithful friend is an elixir of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find [her]. — Sirach 6:14-16

“One can make a rather easy transition from human friendships to friendship with God himself” — Aelred of Rievaulx

I’d like to honor Ashley today. She is, of course, lead singer in the indy cover band, Ashley and Maria (or Mashley, as I call them), whose work I have featured here for the last 2 years. She’s a remarkable young woman. My daughter Maria became friends with Ashley soon after we arrived in New Orleans in 2012, and it was not long before they stitched together their unique melodies into a new and fresh harmony.

After my first son was born, an older gentleman gave me this advice on raising children well, “If you cultivate in your children a love for good books, good music, good friends, along with your good marriage, you’ll give them a rock solid foundation.” What’s become clear over the 21 years since then is this: while my wife and I have had a good amount of say over the books, music and our marriage, it’s friendships that contain the real uncertainty variable.

Friendship is immensely powerful, for good or for ill. Our greatest goal in this regard over the years has been to instill in our children standards of good judgment that would help them sift the wheat from the chaff and choose people of character for friends. And we prayed (and still pray) each of our children would find and maintain good, faithful and worthy friends. Without exception, we believe that our children have each chosen well.

Ashley is an especially exceptional example of such a friendship. She, like Maria, is filled with joie de vivre. She’s a normal teenager, but not ordinary. She stands out. She is kind and creative, hip, deeply faith-filled, willing to go the extra mile, sensitive to beauty and attentive to others’ suffering. She has moral integrity and — key! — her parents love her enough to hold her to high standards. Her parents rock.

And Ashley longs to know God. When I was in high school, I would not have had the foggiest idea what that meant. But she does, and it’s a way of life she shares with Maria; and with anyone who comes close to her. In fact, Ashley and Maria’s friendship reminds me of the friendship between Sts. Gregory Nazianzen and Basil the Great, which Gregory described in his homily at Basil’s funeral. I will substitute “music” for “philosophy”:

The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of [music]. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as [her] own. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.

So that’s my take, but don’t just believe me. Let me allow 6 of her friends to weigh in:

Ashley keeps her cool in everything she does and is able to see things from a long term perspective.
Ashley never lets anything bother her, and she does everything with love.
Ashley has a good heart and selflessly puts others’ needs above her own.
Ashley is level headed in tough situations and always just wants what is best for her friends
Ashley has the amazing and unique ability to place all of her needs aside when she sees someone she cares about in pain.
Ashley would do absolutely anything to protect the people she loves, and that selflessness reminds me a lot of Jesus.

Ashley, you’re loved by Mrs. Patti and me. You have an awesome family, extraordinary gifts, great friends and a bright future in God’s plan. And you are a great friend. We look forward to watching you bloom with even greater beauty in the Garden of God. Remember, “a dark world waits for a splash of the sun.” For you to sing a new song with your life.

Let me leave you with two of my favorite Mashley music videos:

Mashley, out of Nowhere

I’m not able to post this week, but (my daughter) Maria and Ashley made time to sneak away to City Park in New Orleans on this Labor Day, with their sisters (who wielded camera and mic), and put out a new Beatles cover. Yeah! Finally! Enjoy…

Mashley’s Promise

So yet another non-post post. Before I head out of town on a road trip, I was able to prevail on my daughter to allow me to post her and Ashley’s new music video here, even though they decided not to publish it on their YouTube channel because the audio was a bit off. But I think it’s practically perfect in every way, in my absolutely unbiased opinion. Especially their devised harmonies. It’s a cover of the Radiohead song I wrote about on June 11, I Promise. Makes me love the song even more.

Maria features piano for the first time. Enjoy!

I promise

ashtonlamont.uk.com

My oldest daughter Maria introduced me to the band Radiohead two years ago with her Mashley cover of No Surprises. Recently, she and Ashley went to their concert in New Orleans. Loved them. I’ve not listened to much of their music, but all I have heard I have liked.

Radiohead re-released a 20 year old song about a week or so ago. It’s called, I Promise. Eerie and haunting. According to a number of articles I read, the lyrics consider the dis-ease of disconnection and isolation that increasingly dominates our hyper-mobile and hyper-technological society. The surrealist music video reminds me of Eleanor Rigby — “all the lonely people.” Throughout the song, the thread that binds together a seemingly aimless wandering of angst is the unchanging refrain, “I promise.”

As I listened to it throughout the week, I thought quite a bit about promises.

Promises anchor us in the storm, keep us from being set adrift, losing our inner compass and stability. Baptismal promises, marital promises, ordination promises, professional promises. Promises manifest and confirm your character, forge and focus your deepest commitments. My grandfather wrote me once, “Tommy, always be a man of your word. If you don’t have your word, you’ve nothing to offer. Being true to your word in the face of resistance is the highest act of courage. Without this greatness is impossible. Words kept channel swift and powerful waters into a deep river that cuts rock, broken words diffuse into a shallow and murky swamp that covers rock with mud.” The Scriptures are filled with promises offered, promises kept and promises broken. God is above all true to His promises, true to His Name, a God of His Word — “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11).

The word promise comes from the Latin pro- “before” and mittere “to release, let go; send, throw.” So, in a sense, it means to “throw yourself” into the future. A future uncertain, indefinite, unknown. All promises are future oriented, throw caution to the wind in a reckless act of hope. Hope in God alone makes possible absolute and unconditional promises, as the martyrs testify eloquently. “Love for life did not deter them from death” (Rev. 12:11).

Last October on our 21st wedding anniversary, Patti and I spent an evening on the balcony of our hotel room sipping Chianti and remembering many of the big events in our marriage and family life. Patti said, “Can you imagine if we knew all that the words “I promise to be…’ implied? Oh my gosh. All that’s happened since that day? I guess that’s why the promises include ‘in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health all the days of my life.’ Catch all. So you really do know you’re in for a lot!” I said, “I guess that’s also why they say that the eighth sacrament is ignorance! If we knew up front all that the other seven sacraments commit us to, we’d probably run! When you’re Catholic, you can’t ever say ‘I didn’t sign up for this.’ If it’s a sacrament, it’s the cross, and so you did.”

Then she sang a line from Covenant Hymn (which she also sang at our wedding):

Whatever you dream, I am with you, when stars call your name in the night. Though shadows and mist cloud the future, together we bear there a light. Like Abram and Sarah we stand, with only a promise in hand. But lead where you dream: I will follow. To dream with you is my delight.

In the play A Man for All Seasons, when St. Thomas More’s daughter Margaret was trying to convince him to dissemble and take the Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII the head of the Church of England, he said to her: “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.” St. Thomas knew baptismal promises bound Him unconditionally to God’s Kingdom, and that these were the ground of every other promise. He said just before he was beheaded, “I am the King’s good servant – but God’s first.”

When our first child was born, an “old salt” friend who had three sons of his own told me to never make a promise to my children that I couldn’t keep. Small or great. And if you break a promise, he said, make amends and do penance for them to see you take them dead seriously. Penance proportionate to the gravity of the promise. He said, “They need to get from you that they can count on you. Everything else in your life can fall apart, you can lose your job or even, God forbid, your health. Things won’t always go your way. But if you promise them you will always do your best, trust God, love Patti in the worst conditions and put them first over yourself, and then do it, they will see everything is going to be okay. Your promises are your children’s safe zone. Die before you break them.”

[Verse 1]
I won’t run away no more, I promise
Even when I get bored, I promise
Even when you lock me out, I promise
I say my prayers every night, I promise

[Verse 2]
I don’t wish that I’m spread, I promise
The tantrums and the chilling chats, I promise

[Refrain]
Even when the ship is wrecked, I promise
Tie me to the rotting deck, I promise

[Verse 3]
I won’t run away no more, I promise
Even when I get bored, I promise

[Refrain]
Even when the ship is wrecked, I promise
Tie me to the rotting deck, I promise

[Outro]
I won’t run away no more, I promise

Mashley’s “Goner”

Simple post for me today. My last till the weekend.

My daughter Maria allowed me to share a video she and Ashley made last summer. They never published it because they did not feel it was up to their standard. I did! My begging prevailed. Love Ashley trying out the ukulele!

They made this while Maria was in Florida with our family on vacation and Ashley was in NOLA. They did it over the internet, I have no idea how.

It’s the Twenty One Pilots song, Goner. The song is addressed to “You” — to me it is clearly spoken to God, prayerfully begging Him to save Tyler from despair and help him to be authentic (and not a ‘blurry face’).

The end of the song (in the original version) explodes in impassioned pleading. Just exquisite.

The most beautiful part of this prayer for me is the expression of a desire to be known by God, whose [Holy] Ghost is “close to me.” A lovely riff on Galatians 4:9:

…but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again?

No turning back.

Oh, and look at the drawing on the wall to the left behind Ashley. Cool.

Lyrics below.

I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I want to be known by you,
I want to be known by you.

I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I want to be known by you,
I want to be known by you.

Though I’m weak and beaten down,
I’ll slip away into this sound,
The ghost of you is close to me,
I’m inside-out, you’re underneath.

I’ve got two faces, blurry’s the one I’m not,
I’ve got two faces, blurry’s the one I’m not,
I need your help to take him out,
I need your help to take him out.

Though I’m weak and beaten down,
I’ll slip away into this sound,
The ghost of you is close to me,
I’m inside-out, you’re underneath.

Though I’m weak and beaten down,
I’ll slip away into this sound,
The ghost of you is close to me,
I’m inside-out, you’re underneath.

Don’t let me be gone.
Don’t let me be gone.
Don’t let me be gone.
Don’t let me be gone.

Don’t let me be.
Don’t let me be.

(Ah, yeah)

I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I want to be known by you,
I want to be known by you.

Daft Punk Sabbath

bp.blogspot.com

Jews gave the world a day of rest. No ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest. Those who live without such a septimanal punctuation are emptier and less resourceful. Those people who work seven days a week, even if they are being paid millions of dollars to do so, are considered slaves in the biblical conception. — Thomas Cahill

To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in harmony. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern. ― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Sabbath! Shabbat! The day of ceasing from work, the day of rest, the day of thanksgiving, the day of celebration when Queen Sabbath, and her Lord, come to set free those men and women whom work, under the dominion of sin, ever-threatens to enslave.

When Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” — He was declaring Himself to be the Sabbath, the eternal rest of God-made-man in whom God’s rest and man’s rest coincide. Hebrews 4:1-13 makes this point. The eternal Word is the delighted Sabbath gaze of the Father who, on the 7th day, ceased creating to look back on the “very good” creation He had called into existence out of nothing. And He invites us, made in His image, to join Him on the 7th day in His delighted contemplative gaze on the beauty of both creation and Creator.

In His resurrection, Jesus, having completed all of His redeeming work, entered the 8th day of creation — the day of eternity — to gaze with the Father and the Holy Spirit on the goodness and beauty of the new creation. In Him all creation finds its final rest-oration, and every Sunday is a sacrament of that rest as we cease from our labors and allow God to gaze on us with delight. And in the Holy Mass He invites us, reborn as His sons and daughters, to join Him on the 8th day in His delighted contemplative gaze on the beauty of both re-creation and Redeemer.

Work and rest, labor and leisure, doing and be-ing, action and contemplation, planting and celebrating, harvesting and feasting, giving and receiving, usefulness and uselessness, means and ends, composing and playing. These furious opposites shape a fully human life and give birth to creativity. Leisure, which is a posture of grateful receptivity toward existence as a gift, is not a luxury but a necessity for authentic human living. Leisure and labor are not opposites or competitors, but dance partners. Leisure requires labor, and labor requires leisure. Without leisure there is no “space” made in which we can return to God as a sacrifice all that we have made of what we received. Without leisure we forget to give thanks, we fail to celebrate and the fruit of joy dies on the vine. Without labor we cannot rightly receive the gifts we are given, which requires that we multiply them in service to the good of all to the glory of God. With no labor, there is no sacrificial offering to return God’s fruit-bearing gifts with thanksgiving. God created six days to gather the material for the Sacrifice, and one day to pour it out before Him in joyful celebration.

Oh the purposelessness of Sabbath celebration, of making beauty, of splashing life with infinitely varied colors! The Sabbath commands we have tea with our grandmother, swing quietly beneath the oak with a friend, smell flowers, dance, make love to our spouse, dress up for Mass, set the table for a feast with exquisite care, make music, laugh, play, bathe the feet of Jesus with our tears and dry them with our hair. O sheer, glorious, reckless, blessed waste done for the sake of love without measure.

I worked in an Orthodox Jewish nursing home in Connecticut in the 1980’s and I will never forget the weekly experience of welcoming the Sabbath on Friday evening. With the tables decorated beautifully and adorned with traditional foods and wine, the Rabbi would welcome Lady Sabbath into the Home with song and dance and prayers. “Shabbat shalom…”  All in Hebrew. Many of the residents knew the words, the songs and would sing. While during the week they looked sad from loneliness, on this evening every week all would come alive. It was an emotional thing to watch. For that short time they felt valued, worthy, loved, essential, important, joyful. The world took on a beauty and meaning that it lost during the days of efficiency and procedures, busyness and rushed pragmatism. Eating, drinking, dancing, singing, speaking a sacred language, drawing on memories that went back to childhood; to Sinai; to the dawn of creation. Lady Sabbath had come and set them free from a world that declares the unproductive unworthy, dead weight. A foretaste of the next world, where all means-to-ends collapse into a single End and utility is swallowed up in the final work of all creation: ceaseless celebration of unending love.

Not long ago, I had worked for 14 days in a row. It was a Sunday and I was writing a talk I had to give out of town that week. My son, who wanted to go for a run with me, came over and said, “Dad, when will you be done?” I said, “Not much longer.” He said, “That’s what you said last time.” I got a bit short and said, “I just have to focus, please.” He said, “What are you writing about?” I said, “The Paschal Mystery for an adult education thing.” He said, “Don’t you think the Paschal Mystery would want you to spend time with your family on a Sunday?”

The Church exists in the world to bring to the world the culture of Sabbath. The Church is meant to be for all people a “house of prayer,” a place to bring labors and heavy burdens and rest them on the Altar for total consecration. Like the prodigal son who returned to the father weary, burdened, exhausted and chained by his labors and his sins, we must make Sabbath time to return to God with the sacrifice of our whole life-offering — repented sins and virtuous labors — so He can receive all of it, with us, into His outrageously wasteful (see the older son in Luke 15:25-32) and joyful celebration.

As I like to use off-beat songs to punctuate my points, I will end with the song Daft Punk by one of my favorite contemporary groups, the crazy-talented a capella Pentatonix. They are nuts! The lyrics of this cover-mashup of various Daft Punk songs alternate (in my mind!) between labor and Sabbath celebration. My favorite part of the song is the beginning riff of technologic buzz words that exhaust me just thinking of! Mostly because so much of my work life is dominated by those words. Feel the tension between the freedom of celebration and the work that is “never over.” I won’t attempt any commentary beyond that. If you so desire, watch the wildly colorful and fun music video and follow the lyrics I posted below.

Buy it, use it, break it, fix it,
Trash it, change it, mail, upgrade it,
Charge it, point it, zoom it, press it,
Snap it, work it, quick, erase it,
Write it, cut it, paste it, save it,
Load it, check it, quick, rewrite it,
Plug it, play it, burn it, rip it,
Drag and drop it, zip, unzip it,
Lock it, fill it, call it, find it,
View it, code it, jam, unlock it,
Surf it, scroll it, pause it, click it,
Cross it, crack it, switch, update it,
Name it, rate it, tune it, print it,
Scan it, send it, fax, rename it,
Touch it, bring it, pay it, watch it.
Technologic.

One more time
Ah ah ah ah ah
Ah ah ah ah
One more time
Ah ah ah ah ah
Ah ah ah ah

We’re like the legend of the Phoenix
Our ends with beginnings
What keep the planets spinning
The force of love beginning
We’ve come too far,
To give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar
And our cups to the stars
We’re up all night till the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky
We’re all up till the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky
We’re up all night to get lucky
We’re up all night, all night to get,
Up all night to get, get, get lucky
Last night, I had this dream about you
In this dream, I’m dancing right beside you
There’s nothing wrong with just a little bit of fun
We were dancing all night long
Oh, I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
I hope this dream comes true
One more time
We’re gonna celebrate
Oh yeah, all right
Don’t stop the dancing
One more time
We’re gonna celebrate

Work it harder, make it better
Do it faster, makes us stronger
More than ever hour after
Our work is never over
Work it harder, make it better
Do it faster, makes us stronger
More than ever hour after
Our work is never over
I’mma work it harder, make it bett-
Do it faster, makes us
More than ever hou-hour after
Ou-our work is never over
Work it harder, make it better
Do it faster, makes us stronger
More than ever hour after
Our work is never over

Television, rules the nation, oh yeah
Television, rules the nation

Music’s got me feeling so free
Celebrate and dance so free
One more time
Music’s got me feeling so free
We’re gonna celebrate
Celebrate and dance so free (celebrate)
Tonight (We’ve)
Hey, just feelin’ (Come to far)
Music’s got me feeling the need (To give up who we are)
One more time
Music’s got me feeling so free (So let’s)
We’re gonna celebrate (Raise the bar)
Celebrate and dance (And our cups)
To the stars
We’re up all night till the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky
We’re up all night till the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up for
One more time
We’re up all night till the sun
Celebration
Feelings so free
One more time
We’re up all night till the sun
Celebration
Music’s got me feeling so

Our work is never over